Over 120 peacemakers from all over Kenya converged in Nairobi at the Hekima College Auditorium on June 5–6, 2014. They came together enthusiastically, and participated with passion in a conference focused on renewing energies and commitment to peace in Kenya toward collective impact and a shared vision for peace.

Cross-border and religious conflicts were among the topics the group discussed as they considered ways to work together to support a cohesive, peaceful country. Involving key senior leaders in peace-building was one approach considered throughout the two days.

Major objectives of the conference were to raise the visibility of peace efforts in Kenya, renew ways for civil society to contribute to peace in Kenya and the East Africa region, and share lessons learned from peacemakers throughout the country.

Dereje Wordofa,  Africa Regional Director for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), opened the event with a keynote speech. He shared his dream and vision of a peaceful and prosperous Kenya and its important role in conflict resolution and peace-building in Africa.

On behalf of AFSC, he welcomed all to the conference, while recognizing the organizing committee that included Chemichemi Ya Ukweli (CYU), Alternatives To Violence Project (AVP (K) Trust), InfoAid, Catholic Justice and Peace Committee (CJPC), Peace Society of Kenya, SUPKEM, Coalition for Peace in Africa (COPA), Peace-Net Kenya, Global Communities (CHF ), Mennonites Central Committee, Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance (KMYA), UZIMA Foundation, Change Agents for Peace Initiative (CAPI) and HEKIMA Peace Institute.

Dereje expressed hope that the conference would be a starting-point for continued collaboration among peace actors in the search for durable peace in Kenya; and that the outcomes would re-energize and give due recognition to small and big peace initiatives, efforts, and actors that promote a culture of peace.

Dereje also revealed that AFSC recently launched two strategic global initiatives. The first is to challenge the narrative of militarism, specifically advocating for reduced use of militarism as a tool for conflict resolution and increased use of peaceful means; and second, recognizing the power and potential of youth for peace and societal transformation, working to promote alternatives for youth in fragile circumstances to engage in new paths to achieve peace and justice.

He cited that in April 2013, together with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in the U.S., AFSC published a paper, “Shared Security: Reimagining U.S. Foreign Policy,” which made the case for repositioning international security needs in a human-centered, globally oriented, and values-based framework.

The paper has many principles, but one is “Peaceful ends through peaceful means.” This principle entails diplomacy and cooperative problem-solving, economic development that builds local leadership, and “security” assistance that emphasizes civilian rule of law. He suggested that the concept of shared security, changing the narrative of violence, and youth engagement can be pertinent in Kenya, too, but further thinking and reflections are needed to develop the right strategies.

The opening of the national peace conference was officiated by the Right Reverend Bishop Korir, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret, who emphasized that the only way to solve a conflict is through dialogue.

On day two, Dr. Asha Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of Kenya Red Cross, gave a keynote speech. Participants appreciated the strategic decision that Kenya Red Cross took to look into conflict prevention, and the demonstrated impartiality and neutrality.

During the two-day event, participants were led through discussions  by key panelists including: Prof. Yash Pal Guy, who spoke on the Kenyan constitution; Florence Mpaayei, who presented on the Kenyan conflict analysis; Sheikh Yusuf, who stressed interfaith dialogue; Selline Korir, who shared her  personal experience as a peace maker; Maina S.K, who led discussions on the existing coordination framework; and  Dr. Muma, who provided insight into the transitional justice and reconciliation process.

Group discussions included:

  • Peace education: Promoting a culture of peace through formal and informal structures in society by strengthening peace clubs and civic education.
  • Peaceful youth and their communities: How to tap youth energies as a positive force for peace and how to promote alternatives to violence and a culture of peace, changing the narrative for the next generation.
  • Ethnic cohesion: Promoting ethnic diversity and nation-building, highlighting that it is possible to use diversity as a resource for peace rather than a source of conflict.
  • Transitional justice: Using the example of Siaya, where women meet on Sundays to discuss the issues their children are facing, which helps in resolving their issues, the group concluded that in reconciliation, we also need to consider traditional methods of reconciliation and always conclude matters in order to achieve true reconciliation.
  • Constitution in peace-building: Peace practitioners discussed ways of using the constitution as a tool toward peace-building and how citizens can effectively engage with the devolution system. Awareness should be incorporated such that civil society groups are able to ensure linkage with county plans and conflict mitigation (both resource-based and cross-border conflicts) so as to engage effectively to mitigate conflict.
  • Mainstreaming peace in key sectors: The group discussed ways in which peace could be mainstreamed in key sectors of development, politics, faith, family life, natural resources, and media (in promoting conflict-sensitive reporting).

The conference ended on a high note, with several outcomes and recommendations including:

  • Creation of a Joint Peace Forum that speaks with one voice in addressing the underlying causes of conflict. A couple of organizations offered to work with Peacenet to effectively link civil society organizations with NSC.
  • Sharing of research findings and partnership in peace advocacy and approaches including budget advocacy and budget tracking and analysis to build a case for peace.
  • Joint advocacy on key issues such as the implementation of the TJRC report, the implementation of the peace policy, advocacy for the respect of the constitution, and its values.
  • Joint peace campaigns with key messages of “$1 invested in prevention saves $12 in response to disaster/ conflict.” Other campaign messages identified were: “Peace starts with me,” “Tribe is but an identity,” “Make peace a lifestyle,” and “Peace is life, Live a life of Peace!”
  • Promotion of the strategic role of both youth and women in peace-building programs. Youth was recognized as a sub-culture, and thus their incorporation in all peace processes builds a cross-generation team for sustained culture of peace. The conference also committed to mainstreaming peace approaches in all development work.
  • The conference also pointed out key peace advocacy targets highlighting leadership as key, namely: religious leaders, political leaders, and traditional elders regarding promotion of peace, unity, and reconciliation in their constituencies.
  • Commitment to promotion of sustained national dialogue, national identity, and celebration of cultural diversity, as well as promotion of traditional mechanisms to conflict resolution. Participants agreed to annual peace conferences with increased involvement of key people and non-traditional peace actors, and partnerships with the media to propagate peace.

Participants concluded the conference beating their chest that as peace practitioners, they need and should commit to walk the talk of diversity and celebrate the good in each tribe in their peace programs, with such examples as food festivals and modeling and influencing right from the household level with peace education through peace language that erases stereotypes of other tribes and counteracts hate speech.

At the official closing of the conference, Dereje said: “The journey has just begun for peace organizations--as AFSC, we are here to convene, facilitate, and support the work of peace-builders.”